This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
Since this is the second of the season's short-track races, we'll have to put a lot of stock into the historical data as well as the current hot streaks to get a feel for this weekend's top drivers. The recent Martinsville race was a short-track event, but nothing at all like the action we'll see this Sunday afternoon. Recent statistics at Bristol Motor Speedway will be an invaluable tool in evaluating our driver lineup. That information combined with who has the hot hand right now will be our primary indicators. The loop stats in the table below span the last 11 years or 22 races at the Tennessee short track. This will be a dependable set of data to judge the best of the short-track drivers in the series.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUALITY PASSES||FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||RATING|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||12.0||554||262||83||6,306||87.1|
|Martin Truex Jr.||21.1||607||232||114||5,157||79.9|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||11.2||157||50||0||1,279||79.5|
Ford and Toyota have wrested control of this small oval from Chevrolet. Drivers from those two camps have taken last five wins at Bristol Motor Speedway. However, we've seen Ford nose into the lead with recent dominance of three of those last four victories at the short track in Tennessee. When the series last visited Bristol in August of last year it was Penske Racing driver Joey Logano outsmarting the field and holding off Kevin Harvick to take his second-career victory at the half-mile oval. This makes two wins in the last three events at Bristol Motor Speedway for the Penske camp. Keselowski claimed two other Penske victories at the historic short track in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
The other camp to give Penske the most challenge at Bristol Motor Speedway is the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth have won three combined victories at BMS since the 2012 season. Considering that Kenseth, Hamlin and Logano alone have a combined for five of the last seven victories at the famous short track, they'll be the center of our attention this weekend. The other driver that will draw a lot of scrutiny on Sunday will likely be Carl Edwards. The Joe Gibbs Racing star won this event two years ago for former boss Jack Roush. Prior to that victory he hadn't won at the Bristol oval since 2008, but he enters the weekend as a three-time Bristol winner and certainly as one of the top contenders. Almost forgotten this weekend are the Chevrolet teams. Kasey Kahne has the lone Chevy win in the last 11 races at the half-mile oval with his 2013 victory. Kahne and former Bristol winners Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Harvick will make their bids to re-establish bowtie dominance at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. We'll layout the streaking drivers and the short-track experts and give you the drivers to dominate your fantasy league at the Bristol mixing bowl.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Kyle Busch - Coming to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend, Busch is looking to complete the "Trifecta." He's won the previous two weeks at Martinsville and Texas and is looking to stay on a roll at the Tennessee short track. The Joe Gibbs Racing star is not only on fire, but he's a five-time winner at Bristol. In his last visit to the speedway he qualified on the outside pole and led a whopping 192 laps before eventually finishing eighth. Busch will look to complete that unfinished business in Sunday's Food City 500. With over 1,700 career laps led at BMS, he's no stranger to the front here. He'll be racing there again in this 500-lap battle.
Joey Logano - The talented Penske Racing driver has become something of a Bristol specialist in recent seasons. Logano makes a very timely visit to a short track where he's been steadily improving to dominate the last couple seasons. The driver of the No. 22 Ford has led 404 laps in his last seven visits to the Bristol short track and he's won two of the last three events at the short track, including last summer's Irwin Tools Night Race. Taking into account his recent success, we have to place him firmly in the contenders list this week. Considering that he won the pole and was very strong in our last short-track event a few weeks ago at Martinsville, Logano is coming to BMS at a very good time.
Matt Kenseth - The Joe Gibbs Racing star's impressive loop stats at Bristol Motor Speedway have netted him some impressive finishing stats over the years at the half-mile oval. Kenseth is a four-time winner at Bristol and he sports 20-career Top 10s at the famous short track. Kenseth led 47 laps from the pole in this event one year ago and secured the win in that installment of the Food City 500. He now has two wins and three Top-5 finishes in his last five races at this half-mile oval with well over 400 laps led during the span. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota is looking to revive the dominance of this team, and this weekend's Food City 500 could be that spark.
Carl Edwards - With a driver rating of 91.7 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Edwards is among the top performers at this Tennessee short track. The veteran driver has been one of the more successful drivers in the Sprint Cup Series over his career at this half-mile oval. Edwards is a three-time winner at Bristol's half-mile oval, including this event two years ago. We have good reason to believe that success will continue Sunday afternoon. Edwards has 10-career Top 10s in 23 starts at BMS for a respectable 44-percent rate. The veteran driver has been flirting with victory lane (Phoenix and Fort Worth) in recent races, so this could be the weekend where he breaks through for victory number one of the season.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the Top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Denny Hamlin - One of our best short track drivers comes to Bristol Motor Speedway looking to continue his success on these small ovals. Hamlin won at Bristol as recently as 2012, and he's led laps at BMS in six of his last seven visits. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has also won three of the last five pole positions at this facility, and we all know how important qualifying well at Bristol can be in the effort to win and finish well here. In his last visit to BMS last summer, Hamlin won the pole, led 54 laps and finished a brilliant third. Hamlin is an upset contender for the win this Sunday afternoon.
Brad Keselowski - Keselowski has been one of the prime performers at the Bristol oval in recent seasons. The Penske Racing star has two victories since 20111 at the Tennessee short track, and he's led close to 500-career laps at the half-mile oval. The driver of the No. 2 Ford has a pair of Top-10 finishes at the track in his last three trips, including a sixth-place finish in his last appearance in last Augusts' Irwin Tools Night Race. He comes to Thunder Valley this week looking for a good finish after some struggles at Martinsville and Texas. Keselowski has had strong race cars to this point in the season, so this visit to Bristol Motor Speedway is very well timed. Short tracks are among his best ovals in the series.
Jimmie Johnson - Johnson's one-career victory at this short track shouldn't be discounted. The loop stats tell what we believe is the untold story of the Hendrick Motorsports star's success at the Tennessee bull ring. Johnson has spent the last five seasons building much of that Bristol resume. He won this event in 2010 and collected Top-5 finishes in last three-straight starts. Johnson's 833-career laps led at the high banks of Bristol have come mostly in his last 12 starts at the track. Whatever prevented the six-time champion from succeeding at Bristol earlier in his career is clearly no longer a factor.
Kevin Harvick - Harvick is a one-time winner at Bristol Motor Speedway and he owns over 700 laps led at the World's Fastest Half-Mile. The Stewart Haas Racing veteran boasts 13 Top-10 finishes in 30 career starts at this facility, and that figures out to a respectable 43- percent Top-10 rate. Harvick is another of the drivers who tends to fare better in the spring Bristol race than the late-summer night race at this famous short track, so we'd consider that another endorsement for the No. 4 Chevrolet team. He enters this weekend coming off a solid Top-10 finish at Texas and with some momentum. Harvick should be poised to be a big performer in the Food City 500.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Bristol who can provide a solid finish
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Earnhardt has proven to be a strong driver thus far this season, and there's good reason to believe that the No. 88 team should be a very good fantasy play in the Food City 500. Earnhardt has managed a 47-percent Top-10 rate at BMS over his career and that's an impressive level when compared to the rest of the drivers in the series. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet had a tough go of it at BMS last season, but should surely rebound there this year starting this weekend. He's led close to 800 laps for his career at this half-mile oval so he's no stranger to racing up front in this event and the Irwin Tools Night Race.
Kurt Busch - The driver of the No. 41 SHR Chevrolet is a five-time Bristol winner, and while all of those victories came in the first half of his Sprint Cup Series career, he's still one of the top performers at this oval. In 30 career starts Busch has 15 Top-10 finishes and over 900 laps led. That works out to a strong 50-percent Top-10 rate at the World's Fastest Half-Mile. He's coming off a steady Top-10 performance at Fort Worth last week, and with some momentum coming into this 500-lap battle at Bristol. With skill he's displayed at this track over the years it should be a good Bristol outing this Sunday afternoon.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - The Roush Fenway Racing driver makes a sneaky-good fantasy racing play at Bristol Motor Speedway. Stenhouse has only six-career starts at the Tennessee short track, but the success is there to be seen. Three of those six starts have netted Top-10 finishes, including a strong fourth-place finish in this event one year ago. For whatever reason, the driver of the No. 17 Ford really likes racing on the high banks of Bristol, and he outperforms here. This weekend is a time to take advantage of that knowledge and exploit Stenhouse in your fantasy lineups. Most players won't recognize this success in this lower tier driver.
Chase Elliott - The impressive rookie will make his first-career Sprint Cup start at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. But don't let that discourage you from deploying him in your fantasy lineups. Elliott has been very impressive to this point in his rookie campaign. Four Top 10s in his first seven starts of 2016 speak volumes of this fact. Elliott went four-for-four in Top 10s during his two-season Xfinity Series career at Bristol Motor Speedway, so he's already had a lot of seat time at Bristol Motor Speedway. Without a doubt, the No. 24 team will give him a strong race car this weekend as they did in the past for former driver Jeff Gordon. Elliott will surprise in his first Food City 500.
Austin Dillon - The driver of the RCR No. 3 Chevrolet was very impressive in his first short-track race of the season a couple weeks ago at Martinsville. Dillon came from 29th-starting spot on the grid to finish a brilliant fourth in the STP 500. Now he comes to a Bristol short track where he has four-career starts. Dillon picked up 10th- and 13th-place finishes at Bristol last season, so the improvement over prior starts was obvious. He'll likely be bringing his best race car to Bristol in his brief Sprint Cup career this weekend. We expect Dillon to know exactly what to do with it and outperform expectations. A second-career Bristol Top-10 finish should be in store.
Kyle Larson - The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is off to an inconsistent start this season. After finishes of third- and 14th-place the last two races, the optimism in the No. 42 team is high coming to BMS. That third-place came at the tough short track of Martinsville and was easily his best performance of the season. Larson has shown some real promise in his four-career Bristol starts. Two Top-10 and three Top-15 finishes have been the results so far. In this event one year ago, the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet led 90 laps and grabbed a strong seventh-place finish in last seasons' Food City 500. We expect the notes from that outing to come in very handy this weekend.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Martin Truex Jr. - This pick is based purely historical numbers. Truex and the Furniture Row Racing team have been doing some steady, tough work this season. However, the historical chips are stacked against them this weekend. In 20-career starts at BMS Truex has only two Top-10 finishes. His average finish hangs around a disappointing 21.1. The veteran driver hasn't cracked the Top 10 at this oval since 2012 and his last five starts at the track have all been finishes outside the Top 20. There are better weeks to deploy Truex in your fantasy racing lineups, so give him a break this weekend.
Casey Mears - The No. 13 team has been a bit of a mystery this season. Mears usually has some good performances by this point in the schedule, but he's been almost invisible this season. With only two Top-20 finishes he's sitting a lowly 26th overall in the driver point standings coming into Bristol weekend. Mears has had career-long struggles at this historic short track. In 26 starts he has only one Top-10 finish and only one Top-20 finish since the 2010 season. Last season Mears posted 36th- and 23rd-place finishes at Bristol Motor Speedway. He'll likely slot somewhere in that range this Sunday afternoon. So don't expect in "lightning in a bottle" from the No. 13 team at BMS.
Greg Biffle - The veteran has seen his struggles continue this season at Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle crashed and finished a disappointing 39th this past week at Texas, and that's just the latest of his woes. He actually sports a strong 50-percent career Top-10 rate at Bristol Motor Speedway, but it was higher before some recent performance erosion. Biffle's 30th- and 25th-place finishes at this track last season have brought that average down. Those finishes loom large entering this Sunday's Food City 500. Given his recent struggles and poor performance at Bristol last season, it's highly unlikely that he'll rebound in this Food City 500.
Kasey Kahne - The Hendrick Motorsports star has had a tough season through the first seven races. Kahne has shown some promise on the larger ovals, but the short tracks and super speedways have been tough going for sure. He's had some sporadic success at Bristol Motor Speedway, including one victory. However, recent visits have turned sour for the No. 5 team. Kahne has finishes of 35th-, 37th- and 16th-place in his last three trips to upper East Tennessee. That is an ominous sign for a driver that recently finished a disappointing 22nd-place at the short track in Martinsville.